I love Ken Burns’ documentaries, starting with the epic Civil War many years ago. The West is another favorite. His latest, Franklin, is a fascinating overview of a man who helped shape the United States of America as much, if not more, than anyone at the time of the birth of the country.
A number of things stand out. While there is no doubt Franklin was a genius, what is amazing is how he was able to change his mind when presented with facts. He did a complete pivot on his views on race after a single day visiting a school with African students. The last part of his life was dedicated to abolition. The ability to admit he was wrong is stunning when you consider the fact he might have been the smartest man of his generation. On the planet.
I consider the ability to change one’s mind when presented with facts to be a true sign of an accomplished person.
Another interesting thing is how much older he was by the time of the Revolution compared to the other “Founding Fathers”. He led the way in his own, personable style. While John Adams railed against Franklin’s style, we have to accept that Franklin’s way worked. By getting France to support our Revolution. He secured the eventual victory. Even though it would cost France its monarchy in the long run.
Ken Burns makes Franklin human which is what a good biographer does. His relationship with his son is a sad part. The documentary skims over Franklin’s relationship with women, but there is no doubt it was significant to Franklin. As much as his intelligence it was Franklin’s charm that was key to much of his success. People liked him. A lot.
I’m just about done reading Ken Atkinson’s excellent The British Are Coming that covers the early part of the Revolution and it was fun to compare what I learning in the book to the documentary.
An event touched on in the show is the Staten Island Peace Conference which I had as one of the stories in Nine-Eleven (Time Patrol). The reality is that it never had a chance of succeeding but we tend to forget that the people who led the Revolution were putting everything on the line. If they’d lost, they would have been hung.
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